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Vernon Township voters to weigh in on proposed creation of mental health board

Chicago Tribune - 11/4/2022

Voters in Vernon Township in southern Lake County are being asked whether they support the creation of an annual tax that would fund community mental health facilities and services.

An advisory mental health board would be created that would work to award grants and fund programs to help residents with mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities.

The referendum mandates that the annual tax assessed could not exceed 0.037% of a property’s assessed value, and is estimated to cost a fair market value of $100,000 property $12.33 a year. It would increase the township’s levy from about $3.82 million to a little under $5.29 million.

If voters approve the referendum, Vernon Township Supervisor Jon Altenberg said the average Vernon Township homeowner would see an annual increase of about $49, and that the question has been posed after a change in state law allowed for the creation of a community mental health board, or a 708 board, at a lower amount of money.

Altenberg said the referendum would ensure that local taxpayers’ funds are put to use in the township itself.

“The board that would be created, any decision they make has to be approved by the township board, but it is basically giving out grants specifically to health care services,” Altenberg said. “This requires that the money stays in the township, that it is utilized for programs in the township for community members that live in the township.”

Joanne Johnson advocated for Vernon Township and Wheeling Township, just south in Cook County, to propose referendums on the creation of mental health boards this year.

“We all hear ... every time something happens, ‘We need to do something about mental health,’” Johnson said. “I discovered that we could actually set up a community mental health board, so we could locally address the needs of the residents that live in this area and try to decrease these wait times and these wait lists (for mental health support).”

Similar referendums are being proposed in four DuPage County townships, and at a countywide level for Will County residents.

Altenberg said local lawmakers like state Sen. Adriane Johnson, D-Buffalo Grove, and state Rep. Dan Didech, D-Buffalo Grove, helped pass the legislation which allows the board to be created while levying at a lower amount.

Didech told the News-Sun that people’s mental health is “getting worse in a lot of different contexts,” citing issues for adults, young people and first responders.

“It’s a problem that’s getting worse, not better, and we’re hopeful that if this referendum passes we’ll be able to hopefully turn that ship around,” Didech said.

“We’re cognizant of the high property tax level in the area,” he added. “It’s something we’ve been very responsive to. We don’t want anyone to be overtaxed, and that’s why we passed the legislation to make sure that this levy would be implemented at a level that was appropriate and would not overtax people.”

Altenberg said Vernon Township does not want to adversely affect residents’ property tax bills, noting it has decreased its levy “considerably over the last six years,” and that the referendum comes during what he feels is a “mental health crisis” in American communities.

“Almost every year, we’ve cut the levy and tried to pull out waste,” Altenberg said.

“Especially with inflation, it’s a hard thing to for ask folks to support something that is going to cost money, but that’s why we’ve reduced the cost considerably and it cannot go above where the levy is,” he continued. “It is capped, so it would stay under $50, about $49 per average household per year and it can’t go up. It’d have to go back for referendum to do that.”

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